The one to beat

Hamilton driven by desire to be no. 1

Champion wants to show he is better than rival Vettel and also prove his critics wrong

World champion Lewis Hamilton was fastest in yesterday's practice sessions with his 1min 23.931sec.
World champion Lewis Hamilton was fastest in yesterday's practice sessions with his 1min 23.931sec.PHOTO: REUTERS

MELBOURNE • Ahead of the 209th Grand Prix of his Formula One career, Lewis Hamilton will grip his steering wheel knowing he has already activated the most important of controls. The reset button.

Despite 11 seasons, 62 race wins, a record 72 pole positions and questions over his hard-partying lifestyle, the Briton has revealed that he is as motivated as ever to win his fifth world title.

"I don't know how long my excitement is going to last but, as long as I'm still feeling this way at the start of a season, I will keep going," said the 33-year-old.

"People say, 'You've won four titles, what keeps you going?'. I reset every year. It's irrelevant what's happened in the past. What's relevant is what's going to happen now."

If yesterday's practice sessions at the Australian Grand Prix are anything to go by, the new season will have an old storyline: Hamilton finishing first.

He lowered his opening practice best of 1min 24.026sec with 1:23.931 in the second session to hold a 0.127sec gap over Red Bull's Max Verstappen (1:24.058).

His team-mate Valtteri Bottas (1:24.159) was third. The Ferrari duo of Kimi Raikonnen and Sebastian Vettel were fourth and fifth respectively and between 0.3-0.5sec down on Hamilton's time going into today's qualifying.

Hamilton beat Vettel to win last year's world title with two races to spare and wants nothing more than a stronger challenge from his rivals this campaign. It is why he said he never engages in mind games.

"I don't play psychological war. Never, ever, ever have," the 2008 and 2015 winner in Melbourne told "My psychological war is I arrive fit and ready and I'm there to kill, and others know I'm good at what I do.

"I don't think the best athletes want to put the others off so they perform worse. They want to perform at their best so they can prove they are better than them.

"Beating someone when they are weak doesn't mean you're the best. That sucks... I want to beat these guys at their best, when they are physically in the best shape, because then it's going to hurt so much. And that's what I love."

One driver he would especially love to get the better of is Vettel.

According to the BBC, Hamilton is driven by his desire to prove to the world what he already knows: that he is statistically better than the German - the only other four-time world champion on the grid.

Worryingly for Vettel, Verstappen and Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo, Hamilton also has what looks like an improved Mercedes.

Technical chief James Allison said the Mercedes W09 would "blow away" last year's model, and the car showed no obvious weaknesses as it completed more laps than any other during pre-season testing.

Beyond Hamilton's bid to remain among sporting royalty, he also races for his family and for those from ethnic minority backgrounds.

F1's first and only black driver this week called for more more diversity in the sport and has spoken out about race issues before.

"I take great pride in that, like Venus and Serena Williams, like Tiger Woods, who really broke a mould and knocked down barriers for others," he said last year.

He comes from humble roots in Stevenage, a town outside London, and has not forgotten how far he has come since he received a second-hand go-kart for Christmas before his eighth birthday.

His karting career accelerated because his father juggled three jobs.

"I never forget that my family sacrificed everything and moved mountains for me to have the opportunity that I have," he told ESPN.

"That hunger that I had when I was eight years old; when the teachers said that I was never going to amount to nothing; when the other racing drivers' dads said I was never going to amount to nothing; when the kids shouted abuse at the race track to me and my family. That still powers me on through the races."

After rewinding and resetting, all that is left is for Hamilton to retain the title.



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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 24, 2018, with the headline 'Hamilton driven by desire to be no. 1'. Print Edition | Subscribe